The office of HM Coroner dates from Saxon times and has evolved down the centuries. Generally, HM Coroner has been, and is, one who acts on behalf of the Crown in legal matters connected with disaster and property rights, treasure trove, shipwreck and the like, thus leading to the investigation of the many deaths which occurred at such a time. Having complete jurisdiction over all sudden and unexplained deaths was a natural extension of his/her powers, and this forms the main part of his/her work today.
Originally HM Coroner was named ‘Coronae Curia Regis’- the keeper of the royal pleas. Today, the correct title of HM Coroner is – ‘Her Majesty’s Coroner for usually the whole or part of a Local Authority area, ie ‘Her Majesty’s Coroner for Southampton’.
The main duties of the Coroner today are:-
- To investigate all sudden and unexpected deaths,
- To investigate all deaths that happen abroad where the body is repatriated to the United Kingdom;
- To give permission to remove bodies out of England and Wales;
- To act for the Crown in respect of treasure trove.
The holder of the post of HM Coroner usually has a legal background and is not infrequently a solicitor. He/she can also be a doctor with a legal background, and is occasionally both. Although the Local Authority supplies the Coroner Service, paying all costs – including the costs of removals by funeral firms acting on behalf of the Coroner – the Coroner is not employed by the Authority, being only answerable to the Crown in the person of one of Her Majesty’s Secretaries of State, namely the Home Secretary.
The Coroner Service is administered by HM Coroner who is assisted by a Deputy, as the service has to be available at all times. In the major jurisdictions HM Coroner may have a Coroner’s Court, offices and a public mortuary all in one facility. However, HM Coroners mostly operate from solicitors’ offices or the like, using Local Authority or hospital mortuaries. In addition to having clerical help, HM Coroners, are assisted by a Coroner’s Officer or Officers. Normally, the Coroner’s Officer is a Police Officer seconded to the Coroner Service working on a full time basis – in plain clothes; however, in more rural areas it can be any Police Officer on duty. With the increasing civilianisation of many areas of Police work, the office is often held by a retired Police Officer or other civilians with some legal background.
The Coroner’s Officer assists by taking statements from witnesses, carrying out investigations required by HM Coroner, arranging for the removal of the body to the appropriate mortuary and generally liaising between the family, pathologist, funeral firm and HM Coroner.
Your local funeral firm will be familiar with HM Coroner’s procedures in your area and will be able to advise you how to proceed.